April was blooming in the gardens of London. Vera liked the lighter weather, and so did Arion who had begun to stir in his cage. Vera had been to one of her favorite tea houses, which was the mansion of a rich lady who liked her divination as an attraction for tea-time. The circle of ladies had become quite addicted to their weekly predictions, and Vera was happy to have a regular income from Lady Harrington, the host, and an opportunity to have tea in one of the most delightful places for gossiping in all London. The ladies had even begun to treat her like a friend rather than an attraction, because, well, gossiping was a gift to Vera, so they couldn’t resist her. Plus, she always dressed up for those weekly encounters, trying not to embarrass the ladies by appearing in old rags. True, she couldn’t afford the services of the famous seamstresses they all liked, but she was quite good at sewing herself, and she knew how to bargain for fabric, in exchange for little potions of healing and other things. So, like every week, she had gone to Lady Hamilton’s tea party, and she had cast her runes to tell their future to the ladies, who where delighted as always. She even got extra money, for when she was especially good, some of the ladies tipped her, adding to the appointed fees from the Hamiltons.
But this day had been particularly fruitful to Vera, for she had heard of a mansion that had aroused her curiosity. Apparently, nested in the countryside, where Vera never went, was an estate, one with no one to tend to it, no lord at all for years, yet nobody had claimed the place in the stead of its previous owner, known for his extravagances and scandalous behavior. The interesting part was, the former lord of the place had had a knack for exotic plants, and they now grew wild and unsupervised around the shattered glasshouse. Rare plants were valuable. Woodwives could do marvels with some of them. What got Vera’s attention, however, was a very much more thrilling rumor. Apparently, some people claimed the place was haunted by its former occupier, or by some other ghost who dwelled in the mansion, sometimes even in the gardens. Immediately, Vera had decided to go and see by herself, because she had never seen a ghost and was very interested in meeting one. They were said to travel aetheric currents, so she was likely to see traces, how faint they were, of the presence.
However, Vera knew she wasn’t good with plant, and in the case of rare ones, she was likely to pick the wrong ones, poison herself or her customers, and do more ill than good. She needed an experienced plant lover to help her in her task. As it was, she was fortunate enough to know one of them, and he even happened to be in London those days. The boy was young, and newly appointed as a Woodwife, but he had been studying plants and herbs since he was a teenager, and he was very dedicated to it. He was the former apprentice of one of her own apprentices, Wadjet. Wadjet was no good with plants, so she had asked Vera’s help to teach Antef, her protege, even if Vera was only a little more talented in the study of vegetal things than herself. Vera had met young Antef and tried to teach him the few things she knew, then, seing his appetite for the flora, she had given to him a very documented book with pictures and accurate descriptions, who was gifted to her by her own teacher, a long time ago. Knowledge was meant to be passed to the next generation. She had hope Antef would be intrigued by this ghost garden growing wild, so, the next day, she had prepared herself to pay a visit to the Fairy Circus, in which Wadjet and Antef now worked an intricate show of knife-throwing.
It was morning when Vera came to the Circus, so it was no surprise that most of the performers and workers were still asleep. She saw Fluffy, Antef’s familiar, a porcupine, scratching the dirt in front of a tent. She went strait to her, and asked politely, even if she knew Fluffy couldn’t speak: « Good morning my dear, is Antef in here? »
The clever familiar made a gesture of her head towards the tent. Clearly, Antef had taken his independence from Wadjet, and resided now in his own tent instead of Wadjet’s caravan. Certainly it allowed him more privacy. Privacy which, if Vera entered the tent unannounced, she would invade in a rude way. What if the young lad was entertaining company? He was a handsome piece of a man, after all. He was entitled to his own fun. She carefully opened Arion’s cage from under her cloak, and let the butterfly out, whispering: « Go see if Antef can let us in for a talk ». The Large Blue entered the tent, and found Antef asleep, alone in his tent. He landed on Antef’s nose, and flapped his wings, waking up Antef who was, for a couple of seconds, in the deepest confusion. Arion flew away, enough for Antef to accommodate, and, after a few more wing-flapping, he left the tent, soon to be followed by a very sleepy Antef with only his pants on. This garment let his very muscular torso show, and Vera thought he was certainly turning heads amongst the young ladies.
The eyes of the young man seemed to clear a bit when he recognized Vera. He scratched his head, messing a little more with his already matted hair.
« Hum. Hello Vera. What brings you to my, uh, door? » he asked, puzzled. Vera proceeded to explain the whole abandoned mansion and wild garden thing to him, and he seemed to be very much awake when she was done. « I’m in. Wait a sec. » he said, then went back to his tent, putting on more clothes in case there were dangerous plants. He know wore socks and shoes, even a long-sleeved shirt, a bit loose, and a belt with various tools for gardening. He even had a pair of gloves attached to the belt, and of course, the whole attire was completed by his curious cloak, who was more like a kind of cape. Vera smiled to him. « I knew you were the man to handle the situation », she said while letting Arion inside his cage again.
The two Woodwives were going on an adventure. Fluffy, with Antef’s helpful arm, went to sit on his shoulder. She was heavy, but he was strong, and didn’t seem to notice how weird it was to see them, a fair-haired Woodwife on her fifties, pale of skin, wearing the most extravagant blue cloak with rainbow colored snowflakes embroidered on it, with a dark-skinned and long haired boy, barely twenty, wrapped in a purple cape and holding hands with the porcupine seated on his shoulder. As soon as they left the Circus surroundings, people started to stare, but none of them cared.
Rather than using the ever uncertain Misty Paths Vera had come to be wary about, they walked their way to the countryside, which was not so far away. When arriving to the place Vera was told about, all they could see at first was the wild hedge of greenery which lead to two stone pillars, holding a rusty wrought iron gate with a delicate pattern. The gate was slightly ajar and a little crooked to one side, so it was easy to sneak their way into the domain. Former alleys of red brick seemed to lead a way inside a mess of bushes, vines, herbs and plants, to a mansion in a poor shape. Next to the mansion were the remains of the glasshouse where the rare plants were supposed to grow wild.
Vera told Antef to go to the glasshouse, and she would make sure nobody was around. She went closer to the main house, once beautiful, now with a half-crumbled rooftop, but otherwise in a surprisingly good state for a long time abandoned house. She shivered. Something was off. She thought she glimpsed a glow of aether, but so fade she wasn’t sure. Too bad she couldn’t bring this Focus thing Jabir had in his possession. It allowed to see more clearly any kind of magic. But it was not really compatible with Wood magic, so she couldn’t have one made for herself. She sighed. « Hello? Hope we aren’t trespassing? » she asked in a quiet voice. « Don’t be afraid, we’re here to see the gardens. Considering you obviously can’t garden anymore, I hope you won’t mind us picking a few useful herbs? ». She felt like an absolute fool, talking to the wind like that. But inside the house, she saw for certain a short glow of faint gold sparks moving from the left wing of the house to the front door. Then the whole glowing vanished. She knew it! The place was haunted! But sadly, she could only see the moves of the ghost, and not his looking. She would have loved to have a conversation with him. But Aether… that was out of her league. « I’m sorry, I can’t see you, nor hear you. I will proceed to the gardens now. Farewell, my Lord. »
When Vera joined Antef in the garden, the man had already filled a bag with herbs. He never see her coming, to fascinated by what he saw. « So rare… so beautiful! » he mumbled to himself. With infinite love and care, he picked some plants, carefully not damaging the roots. Maybe he planned to pot them later? Vera was puzzled by his love of plants.
When Antef finally noticed her, he smiled. « This place is wonderful. Why don’t you let Arion fly around in the glasshouse? I bet he would be delighted. And Fluffy will stand guard to avoid any harm. » Vera nodded to this, and let her familiar out inside the partly shattered glasshouse.
« Anything of interest, Antef? » she asked. He nodded vigorously and said he had saved her a bag full of things she could use for her own trade, and would be glad to tell her which plant served what purpose. She said she would take a seat on a marble bench inside the glasshouse, enjoying the view, and supervising Arion’s flying, for his security. She didn’t like it when a bird tried to eat him. It was atrociously painful.
After a while, Antef put four bags at Vera’s feet, and asked if she could give him a moment. He wished to trim the bushes and water the flowers, take off the herbs which were killing the most beautiful blooms… he felt it was his duty to garden a bit in exchange for his taking. Vera allowed him the time he needed to do what he wanted, while she enjoyed the rare pleasure of seing the world through Arion’s eyes. From above, all seemed so different. She was so lost in her reverie that Antef had to shake her off it when the light began to dim. It was time to get home.
Vera put Arion back in his cage, took the bag Antef had secured for her, and walked the other Woodwife to the Circus, just in time for his training with Wadjet. Poor boy would be exhausted after two nights and a day deprived of sleep. But he was young and robust, and would recover quickly after a good day’s sleep on the morrow. Antef promised to come to Vera’s house and tell her more about the rare plants he had found. He was so happy one could have thought she was the one doing him a favor by bringing him there. She smiled. Youth, blessed youth. But still… she had been a witness to a ghostly manifestation. How the ladies of Hamilton’s tea parties would like to hear that story, she could only imagine. What she regretted was not being able to see the ghost for herself. Maybe another time?